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Trophy wife

The term trophy wife or tropaeum uxor refers to a wife who is regarded as a status symbol for the husband. The term is often used in a derogatory or disparaging way. The term trophy husband is the male equivalent, although this is rarer. It can also be used to imply that the trophy wife in question has little personal merit besides her physical attractiveness, requires substantial expense for maintaining her appearance, is often unintelligent or unsophisticated, does very little of substance beyond remaining attractive, and is in some ways synonymous with the term gold digger. A trophy wife is young and attractive (and usually a second, third or much later marriage), while the husband is often older and/or unattractive and usually wealthy.

Referring to a spouse as a trophy wife usually reflects negatively on the character or personality of both parties. For the husband, it has a connotation of pure narcissism and the need to impress other men, and that the husband would not be able to attract the sexual interest of the attractive woman for any reason apart from his wealth or position.

History

The term's etymological origins are disputed. One claim is that "trophy wife" originally appeared in a 1950 issue of The Economist newspaper, referring to the historical practice of warriors capturing the most beautiful women during battle to bring home as wives. William Safire claimed that the term "trophy wife" was coined by Julie Connelly, a senior editor of Fortune magazine, in a cover story in the issue of August 28, 1989, and immediately entered common usage. Author Tom Wolfe, himself often credited with coining the term, disclaimed it in a talk given at Brown University in 1996, wherein he also credited Fortune magazine in an article published "not that long ago." Many sources claim the term was coined earlier (for example, the Online Etymology Dictionary cites 1984), but easy online access to William Safire's article about the term has led many (such as the Oxford English Dictionary) to believe that August 28, 1989, was its first use. However, the idiom is found in passing in a quote in a 1965 publication, apparently referring to the wife of Bernie Madoff.

Tropaeum uxor (Latin for trophy wife) appears in many scripts of both Greek and Roman origin dating as far back as the first half of the first century. There is the example found in the Naturalis Historia (by Pliny the Elder), though the meaning was probably not close to today's meaning and referred to "trophy women" as part of the tribute paid to Roman conquerors by defeated opponents. Elizabeth McClintock, a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame, believes the phenomenon in modern society is less common than other research suggests.

In popular culture

  • Comedian Steven Wright once joked, "A friend of mine has a trophy wife, but apparently it wasn't first place."
  • The marriage of former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith to oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall was widely followed by the US mass media as an extreme example of this concept. At the time of their marriage, he was 89 years old and she was 26.